Family Centered Learning

Picking up Stitches

Christmastide is winding down and real life is waiting patiently on the doorstep.  After Epiphany, we will take the denuded tree out to the woods to compost and turn our attention back to the busy-ness of life.  And there is a growing to-do list.  Life keeps on going, despite our festal suspension of time.

Diaconate classes have resumed, and there are assignments to be completed.  And an ordination celebration to begin planning.

The farmhouse is ready for kitchen and bathroom fixtures to be installed – just as soon as the new floors are in.

Before Christmas, I began designing each of the rooms to maximise space and natural light, and collecting some inspiration.  There will be considerable thrifting and building and painting and curtain sewing to be done.

Goats to be bred.  Pigs to go to the processor.  Seeds to be ordered.

A perpetually neglected workbasket to be seen to.

EZ style longies back on the needles. I love those vintage colours. And say, there's that calico I'd been looking for. Isn't it pretty?

Curriculum to be compiled or written from scratch from notes jotted hastily on handy bits of paper and filed not-so-carefully in a crate.

New work projects to give time to, some that have been waiting for their time to come for several years.  For them, it would appear, the time is now.

How is it, then, that we’ve managed to find the time to be planning space in our bedroom for the bassinet?

A basket full of {washable} merino being knit into a receiving blanket. Just right for the arrival of autumn babies.

Tutorial: Paper Ornaments

Another little tute for you to try with your children while pies and cookies are baking.  Our midwife, Sue, posted this craft on her Facebook page to make with last year’s cards (or leftover ones if you have them).  We had neither, so I pulled out our trusty scrapbook paper stack – the same stack we have used for three years running.

This one is a little more challenging than the Vintage Christmas Lights, and should provide some joy for the maths enthusiast in your family, too.  Alternately, have the kids do piles of different sized circles and have them figure up the inscribed triangles and call Maths done for the day. 🙂

You need:

Scrapbook paper or cards

A large paper punch or compass


Cardstock or scrap of cardboard (for triangle template)




Micropunch, awl, or sharp yarn needle

Stringing cord

This is my huge lever punch, which makes a super big 2.5" circle. I LOVE it. Find out why below.


Gather your materials. If you're anything like me, this will take half the day because we have too much {stuff} and not enough {space}.


Punch out circles from your cards or paper. If you haven't a punch, use a compass to scribe a 2.5" circle onto a piece of cardstock to use as a template. Then cut out a whole bunch of circles.


ABout 300 circles done in short order with my punch. Did I mention how much I LOVE this punch? {Save your scraps, this paper is spendy.!}


On the wrong side of your circles, make a nice, even triangle or...


create a template for an inscribed equilateral triangle. Lots of fun for the engineer in the family. The formula is:: a=3R/√3, where "R" is the radius of the circle. That literally made me lightheaded, but Brian had tons of fun.


That formula again::  a=3R/√3

Cut your triangle template out of cardstock. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. Remember to cut it out INSIDE the lines so that it trims out neatly inside the circles.


On the wrong side of your circles, score around the template using your scissor blade.


Fold all three flaps toward the right side of each circle.


You'll need FOUR folded circles for each ornament.


Using thinned glue and a paintbrush, glue only the flaps of the circles.


Stick flap of the second circle to the first...


More glue and the third and fourth circles.


Gather the children and have them finish up the rest of the circles. They'll love it!


Set your ornaments aside to dry.  You could add glue and glitter around the edges, too.  This hides any mismatched edges, if you’re concerned about that sort of thing.  I like the imperfection – but I also love anything that sparkles! 🙂  When everything is dried, punch a wee hole in one flap of each ornament and thread some cord through for hanging.

About that punch…

It’s a “Recollections” lever punch, available at Michael’s stores.  I bought a 2.5″ circle as well a gift tag cutter.  Why do I LOVE it so much?  I have pretty bad arthritis all over, but the inflammation in my hands can make crafting really difficult and not much fun.  Cutting with scissors takes me extra long and hurts after only a short time.  This lever punch allows me to use my whole palm for pressure, which relieves my fingers enormously.  I punched more than 300 circles really quickly.  I call that a brilliant invention.  Well worth the $16 I paid!

*I don’t get paid by Michael’s, this is my own opinion of a great product I wanted to share with you.

Toward a Home Education: Tips for Beginners

I get a lot of calls from new homeschoolers.  And those are some of my favourite conversations.  Not because I have such a vast compendium of knowledge on the subject that I’m eager to share, but because they make me re-evaluate why we educate our children at home, and what our educational mission is.  Those talks are, for me, like a day of reflection, a mini retreat.

I thought I’d share some of the ideas I’ve relayed over the years, in a post.

One of the biggest concerns for new homeschoolers is curriculum.  Lots and lots to delve into there.  There are so many approaches, and infinite combinations of those approaches.

“So what do you use?”

I have used, over the years, lots of different approaches.  I’ve purchased pre-packaged curricula, utilized online resources, designed my own.  Homeschooling seems to have been a lot of trial and error for the first 15 years.

I am most drawn to Classical, Charlotte Mason, and Waldorf.  But there is so much to love about Montessori and Unit Studies as well.  I avoid the term “eclectic” because it sounds very disorganized to me.  The only approach that really doesn’t fit our family – very much to my surprise initially – is “school at home”.

Ingredients for a well-rounded home education a la Gadbois:

Saints * and scholars. Don't these little peggies look like they're chatting at a conference or in the narthex after Mass?

A home that is filled to brimming with good books for everyone from wee ones right on through adult.  Books you can sink your teeth into, books that are springboards for further exploration.  Picture books for small ones and good, classic literature for those a little bit older.  Books to read aloud, scholarly works, and books on faith.

Sacramentals and sacred art.  You can’t have too many, but have an eye to tastefulness in accord with your decor.  That can be tricky because there is so much beautiful sacred art to be had.  I tend to have widely varied taste when it comes to art.  My answer to the obvious visual clutter problem is to group types of art into different rooms – some very Victorian, others more primitive, soft colours, bold colours…  It helps it make sense and imparts a kind of visual harmony.

Good quality natural art and craft supplies.  What’s the big deal about natural?  You certainly can use other art and craft materials.  But for us, the natural supplies – beeswax crayons and modeling blocks coloured with natural pigments, real wool felt and natural fibre fabrics and yarns, wooden forms – not only feel more authentic and ‘in touch’ with God Who created the raw material, but also offer endless opportunities for learning.  Where did this wool come from?  What dye was used to make it?  What colour does this or that plant make?  What kind of a tree did this block come from?  Create, create, create.  Model it, draw it, paint it, make it.  I love main lesson books.  They are such precious records of childhood discovery.  And they can easily be combined with copywork and beautiful illustrations.

Music is so important to me, personally. I like almost everything.  Classical and sacred pieces are good bookends to the day, and during quiet study times.  We like to rock out to more modern music, ethnic pieces, and show tunes at chore times.  And there are children’s songs and lovely pieces to dance to as well.  Get a mix you like and pop it into a portable player. I really feel that music animates the mind, not to mention its excellent affects on the soul.  Music inspires discussions and explorations of cultures and eras, as well as maths, science, theory and so much more.

We get so much use from our collection of Great Books.

Primary resources, especially for high-school aged children.  The Great Books series as well as the Harvard Classics library have primary sources from philosophers, theologians, scientists, mathematicians, historians, poets, playwrites, and novelists.  They are scholarly, and often conversational.  There are one or two dry titles here and there, but that may be just a matter of taste.

Wellie boots and woolly jumpers.  Get outside and explore.  God is evident in his creation.  Nowhere else can we marvel at His handiwork as readily or profoundly.

People.  Don’t be afraid to approach someone who is occupied in some task that interests you.  Encourage your children to ask questions of even those engaged in seemingly mundane activities.  It uplifts the worker and enlightens the inquirer.  We are created to be relational and every opportunity to connect with another person is an occasion of grace.

Transportation.  Doesn’t matter what type.  Get a new perspective in a new place – 10 minutes or 10 hours away.  Explore your own or nearby community and take a lot of field trips.  Visit churches and talk to clergy, visit art and science museums, public parks, colleges, businesses, zoos, and farms.  Find a playground or nature preserve near you to meet up with other homeschool families, or to just cut loose and play in.

Homeschool support group.  Online, or real life, or both.  I have been involved in online homeschooling groups right from the beginning of our home education career.  I haven’t had much luck in the past with local groups, usually because our schedule conflicted.  But there are wonderful ones that offer all kinds of free or inexpensive opportunities for enrichment and fellowship for parents and children alike.

Local library. Hopefully yours is part of an inter-library loan system, and is as homeschool-friendly as ours has been.  The one in our new hometown also has a natural history museum inside.  That’s really neat!  There you can pick up books and magazines for review, or in lieu of amassing your own home library, which can be costly to establish and maintain.  Beware that most libraries don’t seem to circulate Great Books, Harvard Classics, or reference materials.  Ask your librarian to subscribe to various homeschooling magazines, give him or her some titles you’d like to see.  It’s also a great idea to request special borrowing privileges for homeschoolers – especially if there is a policy for local school teachers in place.

Computer. Perhaps you already have one, or possibly you use one at your local library.  They can also be a huge expense up-front and in maintenance.  I have seen them on Freecycle lists, along with other educational materials and furniture.  It might be worth checking out, especially if you live near a college town.

But the greatest homeschool resource is a curious, enthusiastic, loving, faith-filled parent.

Poor old Aquinas. He's loved an awful lot. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I said "books you can sink your teeth into."

{There are thousands of books here.  And they are loved by the entire family.  They are taken down, toted around, and sometimes left in the most interesting places – the basement workshop, the loo, and out-of-doors.  With seven of the eight old enough to help themselves, it can be awfully easy to lose track of a volume or two.  So, we have re-implemented the library check-out system we had several years ago.  You can download and print a copyof our library form for your house.}

*These sweet peggies are available from Catholic Folk Toys.  If you have favourite saints, just ask Tammy, she made all of ours specially for us.


Family Centered Learning:: A Homeschool Meme

It’s been ages since I’ve done a homeschooling meme, but Gae invited me to participate in this one and I thought it would be fun to join in.

1. One homeschooling book you have enjoyed::
Only one?  I can’t possibly choose only one.  I’ll share the one of the first homeschooling books I ever bought:
2. One resource you wouldn’t be without::
Excellent art and craft supplies.  Wool yarns and roving, paints, beeswax for modeling and colouring, felt…
And my prayer rope.
And my RSB.
And our theology bookshelf.  The books we’ve collected over 5 years of diaconate formation are a treasure.  They’ve helped us to understand and pass on our faith to our children.  And that is the ultimate goal for us.
3. One resource you wish you had never bought::
“Catholic Home Schooling” by Mary Kay Clark.  It is seriously the only book I have ever thrown into the trash.
4. One resource you enjoyed last year::
I can’t think of one particular resource that stood out from last year.  However, I can share one from several years ago – way back when we started homeschooling.  While living in England, we had the great fortune to spend some time with the University of Cambridge Archaeology department.  The base were lived on was constructing a new dormitory and inadvertently dug up an ancient Anglo-Saxon burial ground.  The site became an archaeological digsite, close enough to walk to from our quarters.  We spent part of one day chatting with the archaeologist about what they do, and what they were finding.  We returned often to watch their progress.
Since that time, we try to seek out experiential opportunities – including talking to the utility worker down the manhole in front of our home!

5. One resource you will be using next year::
Our new farm!  This is by farm the grandest experiential opportunity we’ve ever had.  The children are already learning about holistic farm management, animal husbandry, and business to name a few.  We are grateful to our friends at Misty Brook Farm for all of their help and their generosity in sharing their vast knowledge and experience with us.
6. One resource you would like to buy::
Ooooh, this is a tough one.  I’m inclined to answer that I’d like a slop sink for the classroom.  A pottery wheel and a loom would also be lovely.  Or a set of wood carving tools…  A blackboard!  A real blackboard would be a treat.
7. One resource you wish existed::
A curriculum that suits our family.  I have been designing our own curriculum for several years, incorporating elements from various approaches.  I don’t like the term “eclectic” because it sounds too disorganized to me.
I started writing and sharing a curriculum a year or so ago, but had to stop because life got busy.  But it’s been brewing in my heart and mind.  I hope that I’ll find time to finish putting together a cohesive curriculum for my younger group to use all the way through.
8. One homeschool catalogue you enjoy reading::
We got a nifty catalogue in the mail not long ago…  It had all kinds of neat kits and playthings.  Hearthsong.
I also have always loved the Lark in the Morning catalogue.  I adore musical instruments.  I adore music.
And this one looks promising.  I hear it’s supposed to open in October. 😉
9. One homeschooling website you use regularly::
I belong to several online groups, which have provided me with support and ideas over these last 15 years, both secular and faithful.
I also read lots and lots of blogs.  I get so much inspiration from other parents who educate their children at home.
10. Tag six other homeschoolers::
If you’re reading this and you are a homeschooling family, consider yourself tagged.  I’d love to see how you answer these items!

{Making a Home} Un-Making

Our contractor’s crew begins this week.  So this weekend our crew got to work with demolition of the interior walls.  It’s such a shame to see it all go.  All that work.  Laths nailed by hand into place.  Hundreds.  Thousands.

And century-old plaster.  And real paper wall papers.

But all must make way for new wiring, heating, and plumbing.  For walls with fresh plaster and paint.  The millwork will be preserved and restored, denuded of paints and shellac.  Floors will be carefully stripped, smoothed and revived.

But for now, all is rubble and dust, and heat.

Carrie and Will sweep up dust and debris.

Pleasant sunlight streams through the tall windows

Brian works on a ladder to carefully remove elderly plaster and lath

Layers of paper fall away

How neatly the laths were set in place - angled in this corner, straight on the other walls

A pile of ancient laths wait to be taken outside to the skip

And plaster mingles with bits of antiquarian wallpaper on the floor

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